Carol and I took a short trip to Utah this weekend. It is a drive we have made three or four times a year for the last twenty six years. The occasion was the 90th birthday party for Carol’s dad. There were over 140 in attendance, mostly descendants, so we held it in the cultural hall of the Brigham City 9th ward. It was wonderful to get away for a while.
On the way up Carol read to me from Gerald Lund’s third book in the series of historical fictional novels about the New Testament called The Kingdom and the Crown. The third book is entitled, Behold the Man. Gerald Lund was recently released from the Second Quorum of the Seventy. His numerous publications have sold nearly three million copies.
The book details the last week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth — his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the spiritually fulfilling Last Supper, and the crowning achievement of the atonement that begins in the Garden of Gethsemane and culminates in the Garden Tomb. Brother Lund is a master storyteller and his knowledge of the New Testament is amazing.
Although the books are historical fiction, Brother Lund is very careful to present details of the Savior’s life based on the scriptures and scholarly commentary. As Carol read the chapter that included the account of the Savior’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, I was expecting more analysis and more explanation of what was taking place that night.
The story was told from Peter’s point of view, and of course, Peter’s activity while the Savior was praying was mostly sleeping. Who related the details of what transpired while Jesus was meeting and overcoming all that the devil and his followers could throw at him? Some of it surely must have been later revealed to the other gospel writers.
Most in the Christian world do not understand the significance of what transpired in the Garden of Gethsemane that night. To them, it was simply a preparatory prayer, offered by the Savior to steel himself for what was to come the next day on the cross. We place greater significance on the events of that night, which I have shared in a previous essay.
When I was a young man I used to rent LDS talk tapes from Eagle Marketing, a short-lived Utah sales company. They sold subscriptions to a large LDS media library via returned missionaries who came to California in the summer months peddling their wares. I used to listen to BYU devotional talks every day to and from work in LA.
Another talk I remember so well was A Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement by W. Cleon Skousen. He brought out the details of how the punishment was administered, focusing on the reason for the nails in the wrists as well as the hands. It was from Brother Skousen that I first came to understand the terrible agony of the cross.
We were passing from Mesquite and through the canyon before St George as Carol read to me the chapters describing the horrors of the crucifixion. I have driven that canyon at least a hundred times but will now forever remember the sacred feelings we experienced together as Carol read aloud the events of that day as found in Brother Lund’s narrative.
I thought I understood well what transpired the morning of the resurrection but with the imagination of Brother Lund, it became clearer to me how it could have happened. How significant it was that the first to the garden tomb on that morning was Mary Magdalene, who was also the first to witness the resurrected Lord. What a devoted disciple of Christ.
To us, it seems almost like no big deal as we teach and bear witness to one another that the Savior was literally resurrected, the first to do so in this world. To the disciples of Christ, who still didn’t quite get it, the resurrection was a amazing event. No matter how many times he tried to help them understand, they were amazed when it became a reality.
With great care and detail, Brother Lund describes how the disciples found the linen still wrapped in the same manner as it was on Friday night, but collapsed upon itself as the body came forth. It was not torn off or cut off, but miraculously still in place, with the linen head cloth neatly folded and placed in a manner that signified, “the job is finished.”
Summary and conclusion
Brother Lund is one of the most popular writers in the LDS church. We have a special place in our heart for Gerald Lund as he was in Carol’s ward when she was growing up as well as the local Institute director. He is one of Carol’s favorite authors because she is much more interested in works of fiction than I am. His historical novels are the best.
I think I was expecting more from the chapter on the atonement, but perhaps Brother Lund left the analysis of that fateful night to another who described it in great detail. Drawing from multiple sources, Bruce R. McConkie in The Mortal Messiah, helped me to understand what really transpired in that garden and why it is so important to me.
It was on the cross that he suffered death in the flesh in the most agonizing and cruel method devised by man. But it was in Gethsemane that he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. The ransom for our souls was paid in the Garden of the Oil Press. It was there that the gift of eternal life was won for the obedient.